As legal sports betting continues to expand across the U.S., the National Football League (NFL) opens its 2021 season Thursday, but athletes say they fear a new era of betting is helping fuel online hate.
NFL games are expected to produce another sports-betting bonanza this month partly because there will not be any competing events in the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, which were still playing games at this time last year because of delays to their respective seasons caused by COVID-19.
“Many of us expect a record-setting season based on the early numbers the pre-season produced,” said Jay Kornegay, who manages the SuperBook at the Westgate Casino in Las Vegas.
“It definitely feels like the general public is very excited about the season and they’re ready to wager on it.”
Nevada sportsbooks are no longer operating under a 50 percent capacity restriction because of COVID-19, although customers are currently required to wear masks.
This year’s NFL season will be the fourth since the historic ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate a 1992 federal law that essentially prohibited the expansion of legal sports wagering beyond Nevada.
The start of the new season will also coincide with the addition of Arizona, South Dakota and Washington to the world of legal sports betting, as several newly licensed Arizona online betting sites prepared to accept bets for the first time just after midnight on Thursday and casinos in Washington State and the South Dakota town of Deadwood set to open retail sportsbooks later in the day.
Arizona, South Dakota and Washington will become the 24th, 25th and 26th states to offer legal sports wagering, versus 18 at the start of last year’s NFL kick-off, with bettors in Wyoming, North Carolina and North Dakota also able to place bets lawfully on NFL games for the first time this season.
Among those who are not excited about sports betting are athletes who often are targeted on social media by trolls who lose their wagers.
Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to legalize sports betting in May 2018, National Basketball Players Association general counsel Ron Klempner went so far as to say the ruling would create a new industry “off our backs.”
After her third-round loss last week at the U.S. Open, tennis player Sloane Stephens shared abusive messages she had received on social media.
“I promise to find you and destroy your leg so hard that you can’t walk anymore,” one of the messages said.
Stephens, 28, won the U.S. Open in 2017.
“I would probably say 99 percent [of the abuse] is betting because it’s something on the line,” Stephens told CNN.
The CNN report went on to say Sportradar, the betting data and integrity services company headquartered in Switzerland but preparing to list on the New York Stock Exchange, has begun using its technology to unmask trolls.
“Sportradar works to all compliant legislation guidelines, including GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) regulations and is contacted by athletes, sports federations or clubs before undertaking investigative work on their behalf,” Caroline Roques, a Sportradar spokeswoman, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
“We do not hand over any data relating to individuals to either law enforcement or social media companies without being specifically and contractually tasked to do so,” Roques said.
Cyberbullying is not limited to athletes, and fans who do not bet also can be abusive on social media, noted Jane Bokunewicz, director of the Lloyd Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University near Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“To just blame sports betting shifts the attention from the larger issue of unacceptable behavior on social media,” Bokunewicz said.
New Jersey continues to be the largest U.S. market when it comes to mobile sports betting, although the Garden State could face a serious challenge to its status before Super Bowl LVI on February 13, 2022 if neighboring New York is able to complete a bidding process, award licenses and oversee the launch of a select number of mobile wagering platforms in accordance with a state law passed in April.
That is by no means a guaranteed outcome given the complexities of the New York marketplace, however.
“Launching and effectively regulating online sportsbooks may not be an easy task for states without pre-existing infrastructures like New Jersey had due to the launch on online gambling in 2013,” Bokunewicz said.
As for Nevada, Kornegay said mobile sports betting is becoming more popular every year, but revenue would be substantially higher if customers did not first have to register accounts at brick-and-mortar casinos as currently required in the Silver State, as well as in Illinois.
“There’s no doubt about this. If you make the process easier and more convenient, the numbers will skyrocket,” Kornegay said.
Additional reporting by James Kilsby.